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Technology in support of nature-based solutions requires understanding everyday experiences

Jiayang Li, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
Joan Iverson Nassauer, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan


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Nature-based solutions that incorporate “smart” technologies to enhance ecosystem services delivery may change the way people experience urban nature in their everyday lives. We lay out a conceptual basis for considering such changes and their social impacts. Cities are increasingly recognized as complex social-ecological-technological systems in which sustainability and climate resilience require environmental function to be paired with innovative technology. Smart technologies for real-time monitoring and autonomous operation promise innovations in urban landscape management. However, this promise can be fully realized only with adequate consideration of social impacts. Drawing on literature in landscape studies, environmental psychology, behavioral economics, public health, and aesthetics, we initiate a discussion connecting everyday experiences of urban nature with the social impacts of smart nature-based solutions and with local communities’ support for their implementation. We describe what makes pleasant everyday experiences of urban nature and their related well-being benefits and social and cultural values, and we elucidate how these experiences depend on perceivable landscape characteristics that are only sometimes directly linked to environmental functions. Then, based on this literature, we speculate about how adopting smart technologies to manage nature-based solutions may noticeably change the landscape in novel ways and have unintended negative impacts on everyday experiences of urban nature. We illustrate this with an example: smart stormwater management of retention ponds. We conclude that the risk of degraded everyday experiences of nature must be considered and addressed in the development of smart nature-based solutions. If pleasant everyday experiences are ensured through appropriate design, smart nature-based solutions may not only realize societal co-benefits, but also gain acceptance and continued support from the public for the whole set of ecosystem services they deliver.

Key words

aesthetics; cultural ecosystem services; green infrastructure; landscape design; urban greenspace

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087